1. Candidate Profile
  2. Education
  3. Introduction
  4. Electronic Vs Paper material
  5. Typical day in your Online life?
  6. Style of Preparation and notes making
  7. Prelims (CSAT) Paper-1: General studies
  8. Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude
  9. Prelim accuracy
  10. Mains: Compulsory language paper
  11. Mains: Essay
  12. Mains General studies paper 1 to 4
  13. General studies (Mains) paper 2
  14. General studies (Mains) Paper 3
  15. General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude
  16. Mains answer-writing?
  17. ELASTICITY of Optional Subject Score
  18. Mains Optional Subject
  19. Before the interview
  20. During the interview
  21. CSE-2016 Marksheet
  22. Career Backup
  23. Views on UPSC reforms
  24. Insecurity about profile
  25. Internal Motivation
  26. Struggle of a Senior player
  27. Struggle of Working professional
  28. Grand wisdom
  29. Credit: Friends/family
  30. BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Candidate Profile

Gaurav Kapoor

Q. Details
Rank in CSE-2016 190
Roll No. 0007126
Age 27
Total attempts in CSE (including this one) 3
Optional Subject Geography
Schooling Medium English
College Medium English
Medium chosen for Mains answers English
Medium chosen for Interview English
Home town/city Delhi
Work-experience if any After college worked for 2 years at ISRO
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failures IIT-JEE 2008 Rank:2371
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if used)
  1. Few classes at Samkalp for GS
  2. ALS for optional class and test series
  3. Vision IAS-  GS mains test series
  4. Interview- Samkalp, ALS, Chanakya
Service preferences (Top-5) IAS, IFS, IRS(IT), IRS(C&CE)
state cadre preference (Top-5) AGMUT, Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP, Haryana


Education fill the details here
% in class 10 95.4%
% in class 12 89.4%
Graduation course and % B.Tech in Mech. Engg.; 8.86/10
Name of college, city, passing out year IIT Guwahati, 2012
Any other professional courses
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievements Badminton


Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?
Hi everyone, this is Gaurav Kapoor, AIR-190 UPSC CSE-2016. I did my B.Tech from IIT Guwahati in Mechanical Engineering during 2008-2012. I was born in Sonipat, Haryana and since age of 5 was brought up in Delhi. My father is Senior Radiographer at Municipal Corporation of Delhi and my mother is Higher Grade Assistant at LIC.
Since childhood, I was exposed to this fascinating field of civil services and heard many stories about how an IAS can revolutionize the lives of people, how an IPS plays an integral role in ensuring peace in the society, etc. These images created some inclination in me towards attempting civil services at some point of my life.
After completing my B.Tech, I got the wonderful opportunity to join the prestigious organization ISRO and was posted as Scientist SC at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. My stint at ISRO was really enjoyable and it taught me a lot. However somewhere deep, I felt an urge to try my luck towards cracking this exam. Finally after spending little over 2 years, with support, well wishes of family and friends, I left the job in 2015 and came to Delhi to prepare seriously for the exam.

Electronic Vs Paper material

Q. In recent times, there is spur in electronic material- blogs, sites, pdfs, RSS-feeds. Many aspirants feel bogged down by this information overload. So, how do you balance this i.e. electronic material vs. paper material (Books, newspapers)
After all these years, I have come to understand that striking right balance is the key to cracking this examination and this balance is applicable to many things, including a balance between electronic vs paper.
Before I detail out my strategy, a candidate must understand the purpose of both. Electronic materials, are generally used for dynamic aspects of syllabus, e.g polity, international relations, economics, environment, security, etc. These topics heavily rely on current affairs, so while preparing these topics I focused more on electronic materials maybe 70-30 ratio.
However, for static portions like culture, history, geography, some aspects of polity, ethics, etc. one need to put more weight on standard text books, so naturally the reliance on electronic material will come down.
For the record, I used following websites-
mrunal.org, insightsonindia.com, iasbaba.com, pib releases, prsindia.org, idsa.in, downtoearth, learningspace
So I will suggest that an aspirant should give the required amount deemed to be appropriate for the given part of syllabus. Too much focus on electronic content will make you lose touch with the basics and paucity of these might make your answers too static.

Typical day in your Online life?

Online life Answer
Daily hrs spent on online platforms for predicting cutoff / syllabus change / age-attempt limit change and other “peripheral-bolbachchan“ related to civil services. Approx. nil especially during prelims and mains stage.
Daily hrs spent on whatsapp and telegram studygroups At max 30 mins. depending upon the utility of the content posted.
Daily hrs spent on online for exam prep. For GS it could be as high as 7-8 hours, but for optional it could be around 1-2 hours.
Primary Device for online study: desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile Mix between mobile and laptop

Q. Any other things that you wish to elaborate on above table:
As I mentioned above, you should always keep a balance of what you are doing. Internet is rich source of materials, which can be used in your benefit. For e.g I found many good diagrams, articles for Geography optional on the internet which I think added to my strength.

Style of Preparation and notes making

Q. What is your style of preparation and notes making? (e.g. I continue making notes no matter what I’m reading, I just read multiple times but don’t maintain notes, I make mindmaps on computer, I use xyz software etc.)
Notes making is a very important task for this exam, and during the preparation, my note making evolved in stages. I think that I went through 3 stages of preparation:

  1. Beginners stage: in this stage I made random notes without thinking about the utility. I sometimes had put the same sentence in verbatim in my notes as in the book. For those going to coaching, it will be like typewriting whatever said in the class.
  2. Mature stage: as this stage, I realized the mistake, and went on to shortening the already made notes. I made them precise and omitted the information not required. I specifically covered a topic in terms of what, where, when, why and how?
  3. Advance stage: as this stage I created tailor made notes specifically for pre and mains revision. For this I used google voice to text so as to include the information only required for the specific exam. This really saved the last few precious moments. I also created separate data sheets, diagram notebook, quotes, which were also handy ( I will share all these with you on my blog http://hardworkpaysyou.blogspot.in )

Prelims (CSAT) Paper-1: General studies

Topic strategy/booklist/comment
History Ancient Old NCERT, PD special issue on ancient;
History Medieval Old NCERT, PD special issue on medieval;
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) Spectrum, Bipin Chandra
Culture and society Gk today module, Class XI new NCERT-the best book!
Polity (theory + current) Laxmikant, vision ias magazine
Economy (theory + current) Ramesh Singh-though not much good, Class XII NCERT, Vision ias magazine
Science (theory + current) Bio NCERT-relevant chapters, Vision IAS magazine, TMH relevant chapters
Environment (theory + current) Gk today module, Erach barucha, vision ias documents
geography physical My optional
geography India My optional                                                                  
geography world My optional
other national/international current affairs Vision ias magazine, idsa.in
Schemes, Policy & Filler Stuff Vision ias magazine, prsorg.in

Q. Candidates are complaining that compared to earlier years, Prelim 2017 GS paper was very tougher, Tickmasters’ 90+ strategy (and its perverted & populist version known as Guessmaster-giri) and E-learning materials had limited utility. What are you views and wisdom on all these?
Sorry, I haven’t gone through the paper, but I guess the uncertainty of UPSC has become a trademark and one should be prepared for it by keeping following things in mind:

  1. One should not attempt question by having certain perceived cut off in mind (I saw a thread a formias on cutoff speculation even before prelims was conducted!!)
  2. Balance is the key: revise both current and static part of a subject. Try not to leave any part of the syllabus.
  3. Try to minimize negatives by controlling your emotions.
  4. Keeping cool during the exam and thinking that you have given your best!

Q. Suppose, If you had to prepare for Prelims-2018, then after going through this 2017 paper, what changes would you make in your preparation?
I would have worked on my weakness which would have led me down.

Prelims (CSAT): Paper-2: Aptitude

Topic strategy / booklist
Maths Mock test papers
Reasoning Mock test papers
Comprehension Mock test papers
Decision Making Mock test papers

Q. In the recent two prelims (2016 and 2017), the comprehension portion becoming quite tough and lengthy. Candidates struggle even to finish the paper-II. Kindly provide some words of wisdom:
Given the fact that one needs only 33% ~ 67 marks in the paper to qualify, there is no need to finish the paper. I never finished the paper, but ensured that high accuracy was maintained (see my prelims marks) in whatever question I attempted. Hence attempt only those questions for which you are very sure.

Prelim accuracy

Q1. Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? do you think they’re necessary for success?
Yes I gave many mock tests. I don’t think they are necessary, but yes they are beneficial.

Q2. Approximate no. of attempted answers vs. correct answers. in Prelim-2016

attempted Q. correct (Expected) Official score
GS 78 70 134.66
aptitude 60 52 126.88

Mains: Compulsory language paper

Compulsory language paper Your preparation strategy / booklist?
English paper Previous year paper; some internet search for grammar
your regional language Previous year paper; bought a small book of Hindi essays and noted down some good words; internet search for grammar

Q. other observations / tips / comments on the length / difficulty level of compulsory language papers in CSE-2016
If you stick to the basics and not too bad in the language, than I don’t think it’s much of an issue. I gave one day for Hindi and half day for English during revision which I think is more than enough.

Mains: Essay

Q1. How did you prepare for the essay paper?
This is the paper which I think is highly fluctuating in nature and is very subjective. However there are certain things which one should keep in mind for this paper. I focused on these points to improve my score from 95 in CSE 2015 to 145 in CSE 2016

  1. Attempt an essay with which you feel connect and have ample dimensions, content, data to write around 1250 words (~ 8 to 10 pages).
  2. Go through a number of topper’s essay which is easily available online to get an idea of how flow is maintained. [ I will upload my essays at  hardworkpaysyou@blogspot.com ]
  3. Practice as many essays as you can. I practiced around 15-20 essays. Even though you will hear many stories where people wrote their first essay in exam hall and got good marks, but these are exceptions and not the norm. Moreover you would not want to put your future on luck!
  4. Practice variety of essays, example GS based, philosophical, quote based, etc
  5. Creativity of content is more important than complexity of content or language.
  6. Always allot 15-20 minutes in structuring the essay, creating flow chart before attempting. This helps you to bring a connect and flow between paragraphs.
  7. There is no hard and fast rule whether to write sub-headings or not. I gave sub headings and many who got good marks didn’t. So the choice is yours to make.

Q2. Which two essays did you write and What key points did you include in it?
I wrote:

  1. Water disputes between States in federal India:
  • Intro: how recent scenes of violence in Karnataka over Kaveri is happening in India; SYL issue; how these disputes are rising
  • Water Water everywhere: I used this sub heading to focus on geography aspect of water situation in India
  • But no water to drink!: I used this sub heading to focus on environment aspect of water availability coming down
  • Then I dwelled on polity aspects of federal structure, issues, way forward, solutions and conclusion
  1. Cyberspace and Internet: Blessing or curse to the human civilization in the long run?
  • Intro: here I used a speech of Jack Ma (founder of Alibaba) who said how technologies are revolutionizing the lives of us and how we use them is important
  • It was direct essay so related cyberworld to economy, society, culture, environment, terrorism, science, etc
  • Conc: ended in an optimistic tone to show that it is blessing if we use it properly, otherwise a curse

Mains General studies paper 1 to 4

I’ve created a table, so you can quickly point out what you referred. Alternatively, you can write a separate standalone “Strategy” article in a word file.

Topic How did you prepare?
Culture Material: GKtoday module, Class XI NCERT, relevant chapters of AL Basham
Strategy: During the mains, one should develop a critical appreciation of Indian culture. Keep note of important stupa, temples, paintings, themes, etc which can come handy in enriching your answers.
Indian history Material: Bipin Chandra, Samkalp coaching notes
Strategy: nowadays history questions are changing pattern and they expect you to brainstorm in the exam, hence one should focus on understanding the events of history rather than just mugging
world history Material: Vision IAS
Strategy: for now not much deep questions are being asked, so for few more years one can expect easy questions in this topic
post-independence India Material: self-made notes of Bipin Chandra; however I glanced at Nitin Sangwan’s Sir notes which I found very good
Strategy: same as world history, expect easy questions for few years
Indian society Natures of questions under society part have till now been very general. Hence I do not recommend going through bulky coaching notes or reading Ram Ahuja, which many do. Just keep abreast with current affairs, have a look at previous year’s questions and refer to topper’s answers.
role of women, poverty etc.
globalization on Indian society
communalism, regionalism, secularism
world geo physical My optional
resource distribution
factors for industrial location My optional
earthquake tsunami etc
impact on flora-fauna

A general comment on geography: keep a separate notebook on diagrams, and try to search on the internet for creative and clear diagrams. These will boost your marks.

General studies (Mains) paper 2

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian Constitution, devolution, dispute redressal etc. Laxmikant for basics
comparing Constitution with world Vision IAS
parliament, state Legislatures Samkalp
executive-judiciary Samkalp
ministries departments VisonIAS
pressure group, informal asso. Samkalp
Representation of people’s act 2nd ARC
various bodies: Constitutional, statutory.. Laxmikant for basics
NGO, SHG etc Vision IAS
welfare schemes, bodies Internet: prsorg.in, pib; Vision magazine
social sector, health, edu, HRD Internet: prsorg.in, pib; Vision magazine
governance, transparency, accountability 2nd ARC
e-governance 2nd ARC
role of civil service Vision IAS
India & neighbors Internet: IDSA, ORF
bilateral/global grouping
effect of foreign country policies on Indian interest
international bodies- structure mandate VisionIAS

Strategy: I think polity paper is the most unpredictable lot among all the GS paper. An aspirant should equally focus on both current and statics aspects. For e.g, this year GS paper 2 was a shocker, as many of us (including me) went to exam hall keeping in mind previous year’s current based paper and hence comparatively performed less.

General studies (Mains) Paper 3

Topic How Did You Prepare?
Indian economy, resource mobilization Material: Class XII NCERT, Current affairs, Vision magazine, Internet: mrunal.org, Economic Survey-very important
Strategy: Economics is more of current oriented section and hence my preparation was issues based e.g GST, Demonetisation, NPAs etc. Try to deal with the issue in comprehensive manner and add the wisdom of Economic survey to boost your marks.
inclusive growth
investment models
major crops, irrigation Material: my optional had covered a part of syllabus; internet: insightsoninsdia, ias baba; vision ias, economic survey, current affairs
Strategy: for last few years, agriculture related topic has become quite important, so one should give a considerate effort on preparing this part; I created a short summary on this topic which I will upload on my blog: http://hardworkpaysyou.blogspot.in
agro produce – storage, marketing
e-technology for famers
farm subsidies, MSP
PDS, buffer, food security
technology mission
animal rearing economics
food processing
land reforms
science-tech day to day life Material: vision magazine, samkalp notes, current affairs
Strategy: this topic does not attract much questions so an aspirant should keep the weightage in mind before dwelling deep.
Indian achievements in sci-tech
awareness in IT, space, biotech, nano, IPR
environmental impact assessment  Material: vision magazine, samkalp notes, internet search, my optional material
Strategy: this is the topic which many ignore but nowadays 2-3 questions do come in exam, so I suggest a good amount of time to prepare this
Disaster Management
non state actors, internal security Material: Vision magazine, Idsa monograph on internal security
Strategy: this is also another topic whose questions are increasing in recent times, so do give a serious preparation. This topic is more of current oriented but at same time knowing the basics of issues e.g naxalism, terrorism, cyber security etc is also needed.
internal security – role of media, social networking site
cyber security
money laundering
border  Management
organized crime, terrorism
security agencies- structure mandate

General Studies 4: Ethics, Integrity, aptitude

Topic How Did You Prepare?
ethics and interface, family, society and all the hathodaa topics Material: lexicon, Subbarao book on ethics-though not much helpful, internet: insightsonindia, vision ias lecture on ethics module by suraj sir- it was good, previous year’s topper’s papers, 2nd ARC on ethics in governance
How many thinkers did you prepare?– I did not prepare any thinker as such but went through important points of 5 Indian and 5 Western thinkers; I suggest to prepare Gadhiji’s philosophy in detail which might help you out in many questions.
Strategy: this exam is unique in nature for rather than what you write, more important is how you write. I strongly recommend to go through mock papers of many toppers which will give you an idea how to handle questions of particular nature e.g quote based, definition based, case studies, etc
attitude, moral influence etc.
civil service: integrity, impartiality, tolerance to weak etc
emotional intelligence, its use in governance
moral thinkers of India and world
ethics in pub.ad, accountability, laws, rules etc.
corporate governance
probity in governance, work culture
citizen charter, ethics code, work culture etc.
challenges of corruption
case studies on above topics

Q. In ethics, they’re asking random definition and concepts out of the book. Most of the serious candidates (both topper and non-toppers) have received marks in similar ranges. What are your observations and tips for future aspirants regarding preparation of this paper?
As mentioned above, this paper is unique in nature and one should understand the demand of paper. Nowadays the ethics paper has become relatively lengthier and uncertain. There are certain dos and donts

  1. Practice atleast 15-20 case studies and understand the manner of handling the case studies.
  2. For Definition based questions, always tell what you understood by the word, give example from governance and personal perspective
  3. Find some examples where leaders faced ethical dilemma and how they solved them

I will come out with detailed strategy on ethics on my blog.

Mains answer-writing?

Please tell us how many marks worth attempt did you give? along with comments if any, in the following cells:

Paper Best attempted Average quality namesake answer Total attempt
GS1 12 7 1 20
GS2 10 6 3 19
GS3 15 2 2 19
GS4 150 marks 70 marks 20 marks 240 marks
Opt-P1 10 7 18/19
Opt-P2 11 7 18/18

Q. What was your approach in the exam (I wrote all, I only focused on the questions where I could answer perfectly, I just not to high quality points to reach the word limit etc.) Because the UPSC aspirant Community is divided over what counts as a ‘good’ paper. Some experts claim you should attempt all- even if it involves “making up” an answer with filler lines, some claim attempt only those questions you know perfectly. Where do you stand on this? [Based on your experience and of your seniors/buddies]
My stand is in between both the extremities. My approach would be:

  1. Attempt the questions in which I can answer perfectly with good amount of time ~ 10 min per question.
  2. Those I don’t know much but still some idea can be give ~6-8 mins.
  3. Where I cannot come with any relevant content I left those so as to avoid creating bad impression in the mind of examiner.

Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?
I felt it has many advantages-

  1. It limits one’s scope to wander away and fill pages
  2. It also limits the time you allot to the question so help in attempting other question

But some disadvantage-

  1. People with big handwriting might feel pages are less
  2. Sometimes (it happened in geog optional paper 2) that only 1 page might be given, so had to manage with constrained space.

So, overall I liked this concept.

Q. Did you write answers in bullet points or in paragraphs? Some players (who cleared mains and got interview call letter) were claiming that they wrote entire paper in bullet points, so it doesn’t matter…. whether examiner is asking ‘examine, comment, discuss or xyz’….simply write in bullets and points.
I think manner of presenting your content depends upon various factors:

  1. How much time you are left with to attempt the question
  2. Nature of question- e.g enumerate, point out etc itself demand bullet points
  3. Nature of your content-if content needs to be given in connected manner than paragraph is good, otherwise bullets.

Based on this, I meandered between both these approach maintaining a balance.

Q. Did you follow the “introduction-body-conclusion” format? because some mains-qualified candidates claim they simply wrote the points they could recall within the time, instead of bothering with proper introduction and conclusion.
I did try to follow this format and I recommend other also. But at same time, one needs to understand that:

  1. Intro and conclusion need not be big paragraphs, they are just opening and ending remarks and nothing else [I will upload my mock tests on my blog, so you can have a look]
  2. But these should be written only when one can come up with decent writable ideas and not as a duty which needs to be done again and again. I got to know of this mistake of mine through test series.

I don’t like asking following rudimentary questions, but these are the most frequently asked questions by new aspirants.

Q5. Did you use highlighters / sketchpens in your answers? No I didn’t, but I had pencil color for geography diagrams.
Q6. Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in GS1 Geography) Yes, many!
Q7. If yes, Did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen? Mostly pencil, but can use pen in case of time constraint.
Q8. Did you use ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand? Hand
Q9. You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen? Blue

ELASTICITY of Optional Subject Score

Q2. What are you views on following observation: “In CSM-2016, the marking gap between average to brilliant scorers is smaller in Essay to GS papers and interviews; but in optional subjects there is huge difference among average to brilliant scorers.” Therefore, the deciding factor was the marking in the optional. I have not asked this question to suggest in anyways that you got ‘lucky’ with your optional. But I’ve asked this question because these days younger candidates tend to select or change optionals based on how their coaching-walla, peer-group or social media portrays the particular optional subject. E.g. some three Mains back, there was an atmosphere “you should shift from Public Administration to Pol.Sci or Sociology or anthropology because of Public Administration is giving only two digit scores in each paper.” Similarly, two mains back, some were preaching others to avoid LAW optional because not even 20 are getting interview calls and so forth (data unverified). So, kindly provide wisdom for younger aspirants.
Indeed optional subject is a deciding factor in this exam, and if one performs well, it can boost your probability of selection with good rank. Even for me I got 285 in Geography which is hefty ~28% of my total marks tally (1023).
In this scenario, I recommend that one should choose optional wisely and spend a considerable time in making this decision. For beginners, even if it takes 2-3 months or even more to arrive at this decision, its totally worth it, because changing optional at later stages, and that to be after exhausting some attempts is very painful, costly and risky. After 2015 fiasco with Geography, many left this optional but I never bought this idea. I feel that even if some year is not good for a particular optional, it doesn’t mean this will remain the same. Rather one should work upon the already invested time and further improve one’s situation. But for those, who feel lack of connect with optional can definitely change it but after considering all the pros and cons.

Mains Optional Subject

Q. What’s your optional subject and why did you chose it and not something else?
Geography. I chose it because- help in GS preparation, easy guidance and material, felt a connect and scoring (though last one might not be valid nowadays!!!)

Q. If a new player wants to pick your subject, would you advice for it or against it?
I would tell them to be extra cautious for many assume that Geography is just physical geography, but actually its lot more. Also scoring nowadays is not welcoming. So choose only if one can appreciate this subject, as you are going to spend a lot of time with it.

Q. First the essential book/resource list. (Also mention which one is the “Base book” for covering the theory? + Whatever comments you’ve for a particular book e.g. “my seniors said read xyz book but I found that ABC book was better”.  “xyz topic not given properly in this book, so prepare from xyz website or book…” OR and so on.)

  1. Savindra Singh- this is a base book
  2. P Dayal- It’s a very heavy (content wise) book so I used some selective sections of this book to compliment Savindra Singh.
  3. Rupa Made simple on Physical geography
  4. Majid Hussain’s series of books on Human Geography- I didn’t find them that much good, but unfortunately there is no replacement till now
  5. Rupa Made simple for human geog part- it does not cover syllabus entirely but it has some beautiful explanation and one should learn the writing from it.
  6. Khuller for Indian geography- it’s a base book
  7. R C Tiwari- for certain topics its better than Khuller
  8. ALS coaching notes
  9. Penguin dictionary on physical geography- this is one the sources which I found very helpful. It helped to learn geographical vocabulary and language. Given the current nature of exam it’s my strong recommendation to go through it.

Q. How much of internet-research / current affairs is necessary for this optional? OR can one simply rely on the books and be done with this subject?
Internet search is definitely necessary and one cannot rely on books for geography optional. I suggest that internet should be used to-

  1. Find out good articles on those topics which are generally not available in standard texts. Also the fact that geomorphology part has become so widen, internet search is a must do.
  2. Explore good and creative diagrams on the topics.
  3. Collection of facts, figures, data, case studies
  4. Watch some good documentary, eg BBC earth, to develop appreciation for the subject.

Q. How many months did it take to finish the core optional syllabus?
I did not count as such.

Q. How many days/ weeks before the exam, you started answer writing practice?
Just after prelims.

Q. Do you maintain self-notes for revision of optional? In which format- electronic or paper?
Yes I did maintain self-notes. First in electronic format which later I got print out.

Q. Your observation about the difficultly level of 2016 mains vs previous papers. And what precautions / rectifications are necessary in the future strategy for given optional subject?
I felt 2016 paper was relatively easy. However one cannot expect it to be same, and hence one should always prepare for the worst.

Before the interview

Q1. How did you prepare for the interview? – for college grad, hobbies, place of origin, current affairs at national and international level?
Interview stage is very dynamic and unpredictable. I tried to use all possible mediums- family, friends, internet, TV, standard books, coaching-to prepare for areas which seemed important for me. I looked at my DAF from a very critical perspective, listed all the possible areas which can attract questions and tried to cover them in detail.

Q2. Did you attend any mock interviews by coaching classes? How were they similar / different than official interview? Do you believe it is necessary to attend such mock interviews?
Yes I did attend mock interviews at Samkalp, Chanakya, ALS. There were certain elements of similarity but UPSC is altogether a different experience. Mock interviews though not necessary but helps in-

  1. Simulating the formal environment
  2. Let you know of practical issues-e.g gestures, hand movement, attire, etc
  3. Their feedback can also help you
  4. Gives you confidence

Q3. Where did you stay for the interview? (Hotel / friend’s home …) and what books/material did you bring for the ‘revision before interview’?
My home is in Delhi.

Q5. Describe the formal-dress worn by you in interview.
I wore a light blue formal shirt, black trouser, black oxford shoes and navy blue tie.

During the interview

Q1. Who was the chairman of you interview board?
Shri Vinay Mittal

Q2. How long was the interview?
Maybe 30 minutes.

Q3. Why do you want to join civil service? Why don’t you continue in your graduation field? Social service can be done from private sector too.  [Since I don’t know whether they ask you this question or not. But if they had asked- what will be your reply?]
Mainly because of ability to make meaningful impact in the society, offers one of the best career prospects and diversity of profile.

Q4. Please narrate your entire interview- what questions did they ask and what did you reply and other pleasant or uncomfortable experiences during the interview.
I do not remember the exact answers I have given, but I do recollect that questions were like-

  1. My job related: How can you use ISRO’s experience in administration, Cryogenic engine, Semi-cryo, what is PSLv and GSLV, how polar orbit differ from geo synchronous orbit, remote sensing
  2. IR related: Indo-China issues, Brahmaputra damming by china, border dispute, simla agreement
  3. Current related: inter-state water disputes
  4. Optional related: why geography, why interest in geography increasing, climate change issue, paris summit
  5. Society related: education sector, rte act

Q5. Was your interview on the expected lines of what you had prepared or did they ask you totally unexpected questions?  Was it a stress interview, did they ask any uncomfortable questions? If yes, how did you handle it?
I think some questions were on expected line and some were unexpected, but I think I handled them well. No it was not a stress interview and board was smiling and cordial.

Q6. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?
No problems faced as such, just follow the instructions and check list given by UPSC. Infact, they make you feel comfortable with proper arrangement of tea and biscuits, in case you need.

Q7. Any word of wisdom / observations about medical checkup?
Ensure proper fasting before the medical to avoid unnecessary issues.

CSE-2016 Marksheet

Q1. Please provide both prelim and final mark sheet:

Prelim paper-1 134.66
Prelim paper-2 126.68
Mains marks
Essay 145
Gs 1 98
Gs 2 86
Gs 3 108
Gs 4 117
Opt 1 134
Opt 2 151
Interview 184
Total 1023

Career Backup

Q1. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?
I would have gone to some private sector job.
Q2. When were you going to “execute” that backup plan? (e.g. after __ number of failed attempts/ after I cross __ age/ after dad retires/ after girlfriend dumps me etc.)
Probably after this attempt only.

Views on UPSC reforms

Q. Optional subjects should be removed altogether. The present stalemate is helping no-one, except coaching-owners, book publishers.
I agree with this. Keeping all the subjects common for everyone will create level playing field.

Q. Your views on the decision to make CSAT paper 33% qualifying?
It is also fine to me, as it ensures that GS remains the deciding factor.

Q. Despite what UPSC has done in last seven years in syllabus and pattern change, it has failed to curb the nuisance of Delhi’s coaching factories and the readymade e-material sellers. In fact, it’s increased under the new Mains-syllabus post-2013. Let’s face it, UPSC added so many topics and so many random questions, even fulltime student struggles to gather and process all standard reference books and material himself within the short time available to him and This system work against an individual preparing from far-away area, without any financial resources, high-speed internet or contacts in Delhi to procure the said material in authentic or pirated form.
Yes, it is true in some aspect, and even I bought some material to cover the mentioned syllabus. But I think a sincere student can easily differentiate which notes are necessary and which are not.

Q. UPSC should disclose official prelim answerkey and cutoffs, immediately after prelim is over, instead of postponing it till interview phase is over.
Totally agreed, and this is the norm for most of the exams.

Q. UPSC should be conducted online like IBPS and CAT exam to shorten the duration of exam.
Can be conducted, it doesn’t create inequality and maintains the quality.

Q. Half-merger of IFoS with CSE is a bad move because it has raised the cutoffs for players who’re solely dedicated to IFoS only (and not to IAS/IPS). Adding salt to the wounds, many who had applied for both jobs, cleared the prelims- they did not even bother to appear in all the papers of Mains-IFoS.
Yes I support your concern.

Q. If you are made the UPSC chairman, what other reforms would you initiate for the civil service exam?
Will bring more transparency, accountability in the process and try to solve issues of aspirants as much as possible.

Insecurity about profile

Q. Many candidates prepare sincerely but constantly live under fear about ‘profile insecurity’. I’m not from a big college, I’m not from English medium, and I don’t have work-experience. What if they ask some stressful questions in the interview about this? Did you suffer from such insecurities? What is your message to these candidates?
I didn’t have any insecurities and I suggest others not to have any. Its only going to disturb your mind. So better focus on giving your best!

Internal Motivation

Q. People know what books and syllabus points are to be prepared. But most of them lack consistency in their preparation. So, how do you keep study momentum going on? How do you fight against the mood swings and distractions?
I talked to my mom, my friend, who constantly pumped me with confidence in case I felt down.

Struggle of a Senior player

(Answer only if you’re a senior player.)
Q1. How did you survive through this mental prison and what’re your words of wisdom to other senior players? If any specific inspirational incident(s), please share.
I think one should always be optimistic, feel motivated, stay inspired and most of all have faith in almighty. The only thing we can do is give our best shot, and when you have given that, leave everything else.

Q2. What went wrong in your previous attempt? What changes did you make in this current attempt?
In my 1st attempt I could not clear prelims; reason- lack of syllabus coverage, lack of revision, lack of current affairs and practice
2nd attempt- could not clear mains; reason- could not perform in essay, ethics and optional paper
So worked on these areas.

Struggle of Working professional

If you’re a working professional, share some tips on how to manage studies with job
Was preparing full time and left the job earlier.

Grand wisdom

Q. Through this struggle and success, what have your learned? What is the wisdom of life and competition? What is your message to the new aspirants?
I think that one should always treat this exam just a phase in life and not a life in itself. I like playing badminton a lot, so I always drew a comparison between exams and sports that, just like when we enter the field, we never think of losing or winning before the game, it’s the game we want to enjoy. So enjoy this UPSC game and give your best. Winning or losing is something else. If you have played with full zeal, I am sure you will emerge as a better, more informed and a learned person, which you will cherish for life.

Q. Many hardworking candidates have failed in Mains/Interview of CSE-2016 and scored quite low in Prelims-2017. They’re feeling cynical, hopeless and depressed- what is your message to them?
I will quote George S. Patton “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom”. So go on and bounce once again!

Credit: Friends/family

Q. Behind every topper are many people who stood by during those uncertain times when he/she was merely an ‘aspirant’. Would you like to tell the world, who were those people in your case? Any specific incidence that you would like to share with the readers?
I credit my success to my family- my dad who supported me, my younger brother who helped me in many unsaid ways and took care of many things and especially my mom who is a source of inspiration to me. Also my close friend, Sonam, constantly stood by me and guided me. All these people believed in me and without these wonderful people in my life, I would not have achieved this feat. And of course above all, it’s the blessing of almighty!

BOGUS Marketing Propaganda

Q. You are well aware of the sacred rule of conducting toppers interview- the last question must be about self-marketing. So, Did you use Mrunal.org for your preparation and if yes, how did it help you?  And you can even reply “No”. I’ll still publish your answer without tempering.
Yes I did use your website. I think, many will agree with me, that you are doing a great job, especially for aspirants living outside Delhi. I remember when I started my journey of preparation, your website was one of the 1st sources of reference and even till now, I am a constant visitor to your site. So kudos to you and your team!